But We Raised a Ton of Money!

Oh, there’s some ranting happening over on #FundraisingTwitter . . . and with good reason:  Year-End Fundraising Solicitations.

Email inboxes flooded with year-end appeals on December 30 and 31st.

Our friend, Ephraim Gopin, at 1832 Communications posted a list of subject lines he’d seen in just one day.


(side note:  if you haven’t signed up for his newsletter, DO!  It’s chock full of great advice, helpful hints and a treasure trove of nonprofit/communications information!)

Cue a whole bunch of fundraising-type folks jumping in and agreeing, sharing their own lists and counts of emails received and general hand-wringing over how, it seemed, much of year-end fundraising was handled.

From The Trenches . . . 

The complaints and detractors were absolutely not without merit.  And then came the – again, very appropriate and celebrated – response from the frontlines of fundraising.  Hands-on fundraisers going, “Hey!  We’re doing the best we can!  Beating us up doesn’t help!”

A very fair point.  It’s pretty easy to armchair quarterback and throw out the problems and issues with fundraising without acknowledge the very real, very difficult pain points that nonprofits feel.

A high-volume, high-pressure time like calendar year end IS tough and requires a lot of work and a lot of detail.  I lived it for 20+ years, totally get it and applaud those stalwarts who didn’t get much time off and pulled long hour days throughout the holidays.

But There Is A Problem

And that problem is the shotgun approach vs. the targeted, donor-specific, donor-centered approach.

The vast majority of complaints – and I heard from those both in and out of the nonprofit sector – came from a) the huge volume of emails, particularly multiple emails over the course of a few days from one organization; and b) the lack of personalization and acknowledgement of previous giving.

There has been so much research and data posted about the donor retention rate crisis and fewer households in the U.S. giving philanthropically that I’m not going to repeat it here.  Let’s take it as read.

And that is where the concern and hand-wringing comes in, because . . . .

We Raised A Ton of Money So It Works

This was the most common response or reason cited why nonprofits send out a barrage of year-end emails and don’t take or have the time to personalize/sub-segment the mailings to remove already-givers.

Now, the technology and system to remove already-givers from an ongoing campaign is a whole other blog post and topic, but it CAN be done . . . it depends on the CRM, data and systems in place, but it’s worth the effort.

But let’s talk about this “It Raised a Ton of Money” issue . . .

Here are my questions:

  1. Your year-end appeal raised a ton of money, bravo!  From whom?
  2. Were these renewing donors?
  3. Lapsed donors you’re trying to re-acquire?
  4. Acquisition donors i.e. never-givers?
  5. What’s your plan for follow up?
  6. How will you retain these donors – what does that communication stream look like?
  7. What does the Donor Journey look like for them AFTER New Year’s?

Dollar, Dollar Bills Y’all

Let’s be crystal clear here:  Fundraising Is About Money.  Yes, we say it’s about relationships – and that’s true.  And we say it’s about people – and that’s true.  And we say it’s about realizing personal values and vision – also 100% true.

But if you’re not bringing in money to fuel the mission you’re not fundraising.

But all dollars aren’t equal and I’ll argue that Total Dollars Raised is the weakest metric for a fundraising program.

Because the truly successful fundraising program that is going to fuel that organizational mission for years to come is that one that really knows its donors, talks to them on an individual basis, reports back on how their donation was used and treats them, and their contribution, with respect and honor for the great work they’ve done by contributing.

We can continue to Spray and Pray – send a huge amount of email appeals with urgent messaging to a broad group of people – or we can treat donors as individuals and target the messaging and appeal to their needs and values.

It worked.  It raised a ton of money.  Great!  That means more beneficiaries getting service and that’s what we’re all here for.

But how much more could it have raised?


Caveat on a Personal Note:  I’ve done more year-end appeals than I can count and fought the internal battles to convince leadership that a long-term strategy is far more successful than a “spray and pray” year-end appeal.  And I’ve lost those battles and had to do it to hit budget.  But I’ve also seen the other side where the program was long-term, year-round and our calendar year-end message was, “You’re wonderful.  Thank You.  Happy New Year.” and we all took a week off at the holidays.  I get it.  It’s tough.  It’s hard work and budget/goals drive EVERYTHING.  But if we know it can be better, let’s do everything in our power to make it so.  Our donors – and our beneficiaries – deserve it.


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